Price: $14.99


The gauntlet has been thrown.

With all the recent buzz going around the gaming spectrum about how games might actually be less challenging, something we’ll talk about later in another feature, one might wonder where to find the games that require actual skill to win. Good news, masochists, Kokuga is the newest game for the 3DS eShop to rise to the challenge in proving to players that it can, indeed, deliver gratification via a punishing level of difficulty. One that I believe will keep players hooked, despite some of its production flaws.

Upon booting up the game, I was confronted with a prologue that ended up being largely irrelevant as I progressed through the game. Mind you, the game makes up for pretending to actually have a relevant storyline by assuming a difficult, but engaging game design. If gameplay is what matters most to you, this should be encouraging, and if difficulty is the name of your game, you should be excited. What starts off as a game where little effort is required to destroy less-than-intimidating tanks and drones later surprises you with other mecha that are far more difficult to kill. While the level of difficulty given to the fleet of mechs never really develops as you move through the game, which contributes to a play style that nearly becomes repetitive, such a fact only serves as a reminder of what horror awaits you after arriving at the finish line.

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Boss battles are epic and require your full attention. At no one time will you find yourself battling a boss of similar caliber. Maybe you’ll be fighting an enormous mech with six cannons coming out of its four sides while shooting lasers out of its corners; maybe you’ll find yourself challenging a boss who has concealed his weak points in moving boulders with multiple bogeys. Maybe you’ll be tasked with structurally disabling a boss from the outside in; maybe there won’t even be an actual boss and you’ll instead be subjected to periods of torture scenarios where you must make precise movement and shots in order to prevail.

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Not to give the twelve bosses all the credit, many of the enemies that you encounter in the game actually have some neat maneuvers that’ll undoubtedly be the cause of your unavoidable death. There’s this one little bastard in particular who manages to dodge all your artillery fire until you’ve either cornered it, dusted off your lower screen and actually use a power-up, or gotten close enough to render it unable to dodge your fire as easily, the latter of which usually gets you killed. Concerned about being able to cruise right through the game’s twelve levels? I have some interesting news for you: if you die, your death is permanent and you’re brought back to the stage selection screen. No if, ands, or buts. Happy? Putting such a measure in place has required me to put in a considerable amount of hours in order to fully earn a medal for all the levels … on the easiest mode.

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Despite only having twelve stages, I’d be kidding myself if I said each of the two higher difficulty settings didn’t make noticeable changes in difficulty without becoming artificial. Upon challenging yourself by entering a higher difficulty setting and greeting the first wave of enemies, you’ll immediately notice that not only are these mechs harder to kill, but they now do an even better job killing you. Suddenly, that little bastard gets even more on your nerves than before. Mechs that originally took one, two, or three successful hits to kill now take three, four, or even five successful hits to kill. Schools of mini-mechs that did not originally possess the ability to shoot at you are now equipped with turrets. Boss battles become masochistic. Whereas on the standard mode your power-ups will go largely untouched, you’ll notice that you’re actually running out of power-up cards to use on the two higher difficulties.

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Checkout Counter: Buy it or Skip it?

Ultimately, Kokuga is a game that swears it offers enough to justify the price tag, but in reality, it would have sold you even with a small decrease in the suggested download price. In some aspects, the game is beautiful. For those seeking to accept another fair challenge, this game cuts to the chase and provides that for you quite gracefully, yet masochistically. Sure, the game might overstep its punishment boundaries and become physically enduring due to its design constraints. (Yes, after a while, your thumbs might start to hurt.) Sure, the scenery could be a bit dull and sure, one might find themselves not using the power-ups as much as they expected to, but that might not prevent one from enjoying the game as they intended to. The game can easily engage players with its daring, but genuinely challenging, game mechanics. Combat is so challenging that one might find themselves playing for prolonged periods of time until they’ve either finally cleared the establishment or quit after experiencing rage. At worst, this is a passable game suitable for the gaming enthusiast interested in the shoot ‘em up genre only in the slightest degree. Not only does the amount of content in the game just barely justify hefty price tag for someone looking for more than just a good challenge, but the game mechanics are not exactly the most polished; certainly not broken, but not polished. The Nintendo 3DS has a 3″ resistive touchscreen, yet the only touch-based controls this game seems to utilize is a basic interface where you can activate an upgrade by tapping the power-up you want on the lower screen. These factors can be a huge turn-off for players looking for a bang for their buck. I might also mention that the 3D visuals are decent at best. The game didn’t have to go down this route, but I would have suggested allowing the player to fire at enemies using the touch screen and remapping the power-up options to ABXY. This way the game ends up having a better flow.

Nonetheless, I can recommend this game to anyone who is at least curious. Heck, you might even find enjoyment in challenging your friends to a game of Kokuga. It may not be the best choice in the selection, but it’s difficult to deny that this game is worth anyone’s time if they’ve got the cash and are looking for a challenge.

More Game Reviews From Omar T. (Acesonnall):

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Low Score:  6 / 10

  • Borderline repetitive gameplay and level design
  • Lack of content
  • Static controls
  • Potentially overvalued

High Score:  8.5 / 10

  • Genuinely challenging AI makes the game fun to play
  • Decent sound track and FX
  • Genuine challenge keeps you coming back for more

Final Score:  7.5 / 10